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XXXholic - Series 1 Part 1 [DVD]
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The first installment of the Japanese anime about a boy troubled by spirits. Afflicted by the 'gift' to see evil spirits, Kimihiro Watanuki soon finds himself plagued by them. Guided to the door of Dimensional Witch Yuko, Watanuki learns that she will free him from his demons, but only if he agrees to work for her in her mystical shop until he has paid for her services. But when he starts work soon afterwards, Watanuki discovers that nothing in the shop is quite what it seems.
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This first set of xxxHolic contains the first twelve episodes of this fascinating series that, despite a tendency to moralize, is nonetheless somewhat compulsive. The odd style of animation does take some getting use to at first and probably won't be to everyone's taste but it does suit the tone of the series. All the characters are interesting and the plot of the series, although light, does draw you into the series nicely. xxxHolic will definitely not be to everyone's taste and not just because of the animation as it does have a tendency to be a bit slow in places, but it is a nice thoughtful series that is if you give it a chance may enthral you.
The artwork is noticeably different from most anime, which is refreshing; the characters in particular having a stark art-deco feel reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley's drawings. The production as a whole is not stark however, and although colour is used with discrimination, when it is used it is drawn from a beautifully matched colour palette. Also quite striking is the clothing - some of Yuko's dresses are particularly fine. Clearly the quality of the art is significantly important to someone in Kodansha or Ayakashi Workshop - although undoubtedly driven initially by Clamp's artistic vision. This is not to say that xxxHolic doesn't also possess many more familiar anime characteristics. There are monsters, and encounters with magical beings from Japanese mythology, but they are often tenuous and suggestive of evil rather than visually grotesque, or, as in the latter case, morally ambiguous. More often than not they are present to illustrate a moral point rather than to tear you limb from limb.
While the plot is of the fairly anime-typical metaphysical/occult variety, I found it quite compelling, aided by a sharp and witty dialogue - although I have not listened to the dubbed version; the Japanese actors' voices and inflections being, in my experience, too important to miss. Also in common with numerous other anime productions is the frequent reference to ethics, moral dilemmas and their repercussions, and the spiritual consequences of thought and behaviour. Lacking the gore often used to counterbalance this tendency (cf `Elfen Lied', `Claymore' etc.,) some Western viewers might find xxxHolic too idealistic, irritating, or simply so much nonsense - personally I found it fascinating, and felt as if I was being offered another glimpse of Japanese culture. For those who prefer their entertainment to be more visceral, be warned - death and destruction take a back seat here, and even terror (when it occurs) is dealt with in a decidedly cerebral way.
According to Wikipaedia, Kodansha's motto translates as `To be interesting and beneficial' - a phrase which could be applied very suitably to xxxHolic.
Generally I would go for something fairly serious in comparison to this and there were some things that initially rubbed me up the wrong way such as a certain characters habit of have some kind of fit several times an episode. Also I wasn't too gone on the cutesy characters of which there were quite a few.
However there were certain things that that I enjoyed from the word go, such as the original visual style, nice music and all the dark otherworldly goings on. As I watched a few episodes, I found that the things that annoyed me first began to annoy me less and I even started to enjoy Watanuke's little fits.
I've now finished both this and part 2 and can say I thoroughly enjoyed both. The series builds into a nice collage of stories exploring a variety of themes, such as love, friendship and usually a little philosophy for good measure.
Rather than being one big story, each episode is self contained. There are certainly a couple of duds in there but the series holds its own..
If your after a heartwarming series with great characters, some good comedy and some nice magicy otherworldly bits, this might be for you. And at the price it's on you could do a lot worse. This was my first anime by clamp, but i probably get Tsubasa now too.
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